5 reasons for Netherlands' decline as a football superpower
"They won't win 8-0. What a stupid question that is!"
No quote would come back to bite a manager as hard as Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat's overconfident assertion that Sweden would not beat Luxembourg in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers by such a huge margin.
The Scandinavian side did exactly that and made it impossible for The Oranje to qualify. They needed a 7-0 win on the final day to overhaul Sweden's superior Goal Difference. A 2-0 win saw both teams finish with 19 points with Sweden going through thanks to the best Goal Difference in the group.
Arjen Robben, the last great Dutch star still around in the international circuit, promptly announced his retirement to focus on his club career and suddenly the Dutch squad looks bereft of world-class talent.
The future looks bleak for the Netherlands who have now failed to qualify for two consecutive tournaments (Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup). How did it come to this?
1) Bad decision-making in picking the right coach
Netherlands may have never won the World Cup to actually be considered a footballing superpower but they have reached the final three times. They had finished runners-up in 2010 and finished in third place in the 2014 edition.
Louis van Gaal had exceeded expectations by managing a team that has historically been torn apart by egotistical personalities in the squad. When he was in charge, he literally was in charge and nobody dared upstage him in the dressing room.
The 2014 World Cup saw a rich mixture of youth and experience and it seemed like they were on the right track. But when Van Gaal took the Manchester United job, the Dutch FA (KNVB) made not one but two mistakes in replacing him.
They first appointed Guus Hiddink who had managed the team before in the '90s. Back then Hiddink had managed to mitigate any sort of internal politics and conflict to lead the Dutch team to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals.
However, his man-management skills and methods did not work this time and the team struggled to come together under his management, looking very disjointed on the pitch. When it became clear that they would not qualify for Euro 2016, he was sacked and his assistant Danny Blind was appointed.
That was KNVB's second mistake; not considering any other candidate for the job and persisting with Blind. After missing out on Euro 2016, Blind's flailing attempts to get the Dutch to qualify for the World Cup only compounded their misery and a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria was the final straw.
Instead of looking at a long-term replacement, the Dutch appointed Dick Advocaat who had little time to get things on track. A humiliating 4-0 defeat to France effectively ended their chances of qualifying and Sweden's thrashing of Luxembourg was the final nail in the coffin.
The three coaches picked as many as 53 different players, pointing to an obvious lack of planning and long-term vision as they continued to experiment in every other game without any consistency in naming squads.